Miller Time Pub
509 West Wisconsin Ave. Milwaukee WI 53203 (map); 414-271-2337; millertimepub.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A hotel restaurant that actually has great burgers with loads of different topping choices
Want Fries With That? Frozen thin-cut fries are boring; the cheese curds and soup are better
Price: Miller Time Pub burger, $11; Brew City burger, $11; Ale House cheeseburger, $8.50; Wisconsin cheese curds, $9; bowl of soup upgrade, $2
Hotel restaurants don't usually get much attention, and in fact are mostly dismissed as being uninteresting and low quality. There are a few places that break out of the stereotype, and I found one of them: Miller Time Pub, located in the Hilton Milwaukee downtown.
Over the years I've heard vaguely negative things about the place, mostly that it's standard bar food and a better place to have a beer than a meal. I can't speak to what it was like before, but I noticed recently that Miller Time Pub totally revamped their menu. Since it's got a major emphasis on burgers (almost half the total menu), I decided it was finally time to give it a shot. Now I can tell any naysayers that the burgers were pretty tasty, making it more than just a necessary hotel add-on where you'd only find business travelers.
This is a restaurant where the toppings really make the burger. If you have trouble deciding what to get out of their 20 choices, try one of their top sellers, the Miller Time Pub burger. According to the menu, it somehow "made Milwaukee famous," a claim that's probably a bit unsubstantiated—but it was pretty tasty. Bacon, grilled onions, aged cheddar, jardiniere relish, and house bistro sauce topped the standard half-pound grilled patty.
The jardiniere was a mixture of finely chopped giardiniera, the Italian mix of tangy, pickled veggies. It added a vinegar kick to cut through the richness of the sandwich, like a more interesting version of dill pickles. Since the flavor is strong, the cooks rightly didn't overload the burger with the relish. If you like gardiniera, you'll love this burger.
The grilled onions were in large quantities and a little unruly, but that's forgivable. The bistro sauce was heavy on the mustard, something to keep in mind in case you're expecting thousand island. Both the bacon and the cheese seemed like afterthoughts, and couldn't really be discerned over the strong flavors of the other toppings—not necessarily a bad thing.
I almost liked their second best-selling burger, the Brew City burger, more. As with the other burger, the half-pound patty had a fantastic grilled flavor and a deep crust of grill marks. It was cooked slightly past the requested medium but it didn't bother me in this case because the copious toppings lent plenty of moisture.
I've had other burgers topped with Merkts cheese spread, and never really cared for it until this burger. I think the difference was the quantity. On previous burgers, it's been a little smear that makes it seem like you're getting gipped on cheese by choosing the spread over a slice. In this case, there was gooey cheese spread smushing out all sides, and that's never a bad thing in my book. The fried onion string helped corral the cheese spread a little, at least. And once again, the cooks had a light hand with the bold sauce—in this case, horseradish ale cream. Any more and it would have cleared out my sinuses.
The most exciting thing about the sides and apps I tried was the chive ranch that came with the cheese curds for dipping. It was thin and light with a mild onion flavor that cut through the heavy cheese curds. I ended up dipping the boring, frozen fries into it as well. You can also upgrade your side to a cup of soup, so I tried the beer cheese soup. It was definitely cheesy, but I didn't pick up on much beer flavor. Whimsically, it came with mini pretzels for dipping.
There's very few major complaints I can register about the burgers at Miller Time Pub. They serve a solid sandwich with more topping choices than most places in the city, so chances are you can find one you really enjoy. Hopefully, people will give Miller Time Pub a second try for the new menu and the patrons will be more than convention goers.